When I first came out of the closet ten years ago, I didn’t think of it as a political act or as an act of bravery or as an act of defiance. For me, I came out because I was tired of living a lie. I knew that I could no longer pretend to be someone I wasn’t. The lying and deceit I was practicing were starting to take a toll on me. And so, I came out. And fortunately for me, my family and friends were all supportive of it. But again, I didn’t do it to make a political statement. I just needed to be who God made me to be which was a queer man.
In those ten years hence, I have learned a lot about my identity and about what being a gay man means. Being gay has expanded my worldview in so many ways. It has given me a community of amazing people all over the world. It has given me a sense of belonging and purpose. And it has helped me see one very important fact: the actual act of coming out is a political statement and the actual act of living as an openly gay person is an act of political resistance.
What do I mean by this? We live in some fraught, tension filled times right now. I don’t think I need to rehash exactly what I mean here. We’ve lived through it or seen the news stories about it. And I’m sure many of us are just sick to death of everything being politicized. Often, eyes are rolled when people hear or read that “coming out is a political statement.”
But, LGBTQIA+ people are being murdered on a daily basis specifically queer people of color. Their lives, their loves and their very existence are being debated in courts across our country right this very moment. There are entire countries where queer people can be executed or arrested just for being queer. In those types of political environments, it can be safer to stay in the closet. It could potentially save their life or the life of someone they care about. In those types of environments, coming out is a political act because it is living a life that resists the rules and laws of society. Queer lives defy laws, and queer people are choosing to live openly because that is what God calls us to do and that is who God created us to be.
I do want to take a moment to acknowledge here that there is some privilege in being out. Not everyone has that level of privilege, a fact that I am well aware of and a fact that I myself acknowledge in my own life. For many people, coming out may not be safe or even possible. I want those people to know that we see you and we hear you and that we are glad you are still here even if no one else knows.
For those of us who are able to be out, though, it is an act of political resistance. It is a refusal to conform to the norms of our society — a society that wants us to get married to someone of the opposite gender, have babies and raise them in a “normal” way and not transcend any boundaries around sexuality or gender identity or expression.
And for some of us, this heteronormative idealism might have sounded appealing for a time. I know it did for me. It would have been easier if I could have just suppressed my sexuality or “prayed the gay away” and married a woman, had my 3 kids and raised them in the suburbs. There was definitely something appealing about that idea to me for a long time. And I don’t mean to imply that there is anything wrong with that as I’m sure many of my straight colleagues either have that life or desperately want it. So, I don’t mean to disparage it at all.
What I do mean is that, for me and many of my queer siblings, that lifestyle would not have worked for us. Because it simply isn’t who we are. Any effort on our part to fit into society’s standards for our lives would have been a lie. And so, we chose a different path — one that puts us at odds with society and one that puts us very firmly outside the norms.
And sometimes, unfortunately, that means our very lives become politicized. Everyone from the street preacher to the politician to the local judge thinks they should weigh in on who we are, who we marry and how we express ourselves. And it can be exhausting to have to put up with that kind of scrutiny toward our lives and our identities. And yes, I too would love to live in a world where we don’t have to worry about other people voting on our right to marry or to exist. But unfortunately, we don’t live in that world yet. We continue to live in the world where our very bodies are politicized every single day.
That makes the very act of being queer a political statement. It means that our very existence is intertwined with our political being. It is important to note here that the event that is considered the birth of the gay rights movement, the Stonewall riots, was an act of political resistance. The gay rights movement was born out of an act of defiance. Thus, it is incumbent upon us in the queer community to keep that up. The queer community must remember that our very right to be who we were created to be would not exist had not a bunch of brave people stood up and thrown bricks at the police at Stonewall.
This is why I tend to roll my eyes whenever a queer person says that they don’t like politics or that they don’t get involved or follow it. Because literally our entire existence in this world is political. Thus, we can’t get away from it. It is who we are, and we are only able to be out because of the many people who came before us and who fought for our right to be out.
So, for National Coming Out Day this year, let’s all remember those who resisted. Let us hold up those people who defied the norms of their society. Let us be thankful to those people who continue to be out and proud even at great personal cost. Let us hold in our hearts those who cannot be themselves or feel shame in suppressing who they are. And may we never forget that our existence is a political act of resistance, so may we keep resisting.
Tad Hopp currently lives in San Francisco, California. He was born and raised in Denton, TX and isf a life long Presbyterian having been baptized and confirmed at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Denton. He attended Austin College in Sherman, TX graduating with a Bachelor’s of English. In 2010, he moved to Chicago as part of the Presbyterian Church USA’s Young Adult Volunteer Program. His experiences there led him to seminary at San Francisco Theological Seminary where he received his Master of Divinity in 2015. He, then, spent a year as a chaplain resident at St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco. He is also an ordained ruling elder and deacon and is certified ready to receive a call. In his spare time, he is an active singing member of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and enjoys hiking, running, knitting, and reading.